'Princess' Donaldson brings new outlook to Irish title role

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Maggie Marie Donaldson was allowed to stay home from school on Monday, not something her parents, Lilli and Tom Donaldson of West Deer, usually would do. But Maggie had a busy two weeks and needed a day off, her mother said.

"I'm a tough mom, but she was just tired," Mrs. Donaldson said.

On Friday, Maggie, 18, was crowned Miss Smiling Irish Eyes 2013 by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald during ceremonies in Pittsburgh.

She is the first deaf person to serve in the role.

"We were just so excited. There have only been 50 young women chosen for this honor in Pittsburgh, and Maggie was one of them," Mrs. Donaldson said. "We are just so proud."

The announcement of Maggie's title was followed by a whirlwind of activities that began two weeks ago.

She attended the annual Communion Mass and breakfast, where she received her sash; a Pittsburgh City Council meeting, where she received her crown; and a luncheon at the Rivers Club, where she was officially crowned by Mr. Fitzgerald. She also rode with her court on the Cinderella carriage in the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Maggie and her court -- Shea Shovlin of Edgewood and Erin Marie McMahon of South Park -- then watched the parade from the grandstand.

Contestants for Miss Smiling Irish Eyes must be between the ages of 17 and 22, single, of Irish birth or descent, and active in the Irish community of the Greater Pittsburgh area, said Peggy Cooney, chairwoman of the Miss Smiling Irish Eyes program.

"Maggie joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians when she was only 6 and has been very active in our Irish community ever since," Mrs. Cooney said.

Maggie was born deaf, but she never let that stand in her way, her mother and Mrs. Cooney said.

One of the first things she did as a member of the order's Junior Ladies was teach the other members sign language -- something she still does today. Maggie reads lips, speaks and signs to communicate with others.

"When she was sitting in the stands and the girls were marching by, they all stopped and signed to her," Mrs. Cooney said of the St. Patrick's Day Parade held Saturday in the Golden Triangle.

Maggie is a senior at both Deer Lakes High School and the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Edgewood. She attends a few classes at Deer Lakes and spends the rest of the day at WPSD.

In addition to serving as president of the Junior Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 23, she is a member of the National Honor Society, class vice president and student body government vice president. She also has lettered in track, volleyball, cheerleading and softball.

Maggie has collected prom dresses for girls to wear for WPSD's prom and enlisted volunteers to do makeup, hair styles and nails for the students.

Despite her busy schedule, she is an honor roll student. In an email interview, she said she plans to study biology next year at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, part of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

When she was crowned Miss Smiling Irish Eyes 2013, she said, she was "so excited. At first, I couldn't believe it was really me."

"The best thing about it all is just being a princess," she said.

Barbara Tomlinson, director of special education at Deer Lakes High School, said Maggie is a role model for her fellow students.

"Maggie is an outstanding example of inclusion for all students. She made an impact on the students and our teachers," she said. "I can't think of a better role model for all of our students."

Her math teacher at WPSD, Wayne Kelly, agreed.

"Maggie is the model of the well-rounded student. She handles herself with great poise in every situation," he said. "She strives to do her best in and out of the classroom and takes a leadership role among her peers at school."

Maggie said she was honored to be Miss Smiling Irish Eyes.

"It was a wonderful experience. I was happy to represent my Irish community and my deaf community. Every girl should get to be a princess for a day," she said.

Maggie said she wants people to see her as Miss Smiling Irish Eyes first, then as a person who is deaf.

"I would like people to see that everyone has something different about them," she said. "Some people just happen to be deaf, but we can all achieve our dreams."


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com. First Published March 21, 2013 9:30 AM


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